SR-71 Blackbird

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

The SR-71 Blackbird resulted from a Cold War-era need for a high-speed, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft. This aircraft cruised at more than three times the speed of sound, which translates to just over 2,000 miles per hour. No other reconnaissance aircraft has operated in more hostile airspace or with such impunity. To this day, the SR-71 holds the records for the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft and the fastest aircraft to be propelled by air-breathing engines.

History of The SR-71 Blackbird

December 22, 1964

The First SR-71 Blackbird Takes Flight

The SR-71 resulted from growing tensions with communists in Eastern Europe, which led to the Cold War. The aircraft was created by Skunk Works, an official pseudonym for the American aerospace corporation Lockheed Martin. The Skunk Works was a top-secret team of engineers and scientists tasked with creating a reconnaissance aircraft like never before.

Anticipating the aerodynamic issues of traditional aircraft materials at high speeds and high altitudes, the SR-71 designers choose titanium, a relatively lightweight and heat-resistant metal. This metal was challenging to work with and hard to find. The Soviet Union had the best source for the metal, so the CIA set up shell companies to purchase materials from the very nation they were spying on.

The SR-71 also demonstrates some of the earliest uses of stealth technology. The black paint soaked up radar energy, and the aircraft’s distinctive shape helped minimize the chances of being detected in enemy airspace.

On December 22, 1964, the SR-71 saw its first flight with Lockheed test pilot Robert J “Bob” Gilliland at Palmdale, California.

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    The Stats

    55′ 7″


    107′ 5″


    18′ 6″





    KPH, Maximum Speed (2,124 MPH)

    Physical Description

    The jet is a twin-engine, two-seat, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft. The airframes are constructed mainly of titanium and its alloys with vertical tail fins built of a laminated plastic-type material composite to reduce radar cross-section. The Pratt and Whitney J58 turbojet engines feature large inlet shock cones. The aircraft’s body is matte black with red accents. The special black paint is what gave the jet its nickname, Blackbird.

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